Poinsettia – Growing and Getting to Know the Plant


Poinsettia is a perennial houseplant and a well-known part of decorations during Christmas. Thus, it is sometimes called the Christmas flower. However, most people think that growing poinsettia is not easy.

Sadly, after the season, the plant is usually being thrown away once its bracts (the red leaves surrounding the yellow flowers) lose their vibrant color. Some people would think that this plant will be dying soon once it happens.

There are people who would also attempt to keep the plant to last longer but failed. However, with proper care and attention, the plant will live throughout the year. The flowers and the bracts will have their vibrant colors back and will show off again for the next Christmas season.

What is Poinsettia

Euphorbia pulcherrima or the poinsettia is actually a shrub or a small tree that grows to a height of 2-13 feet. It has dark green leaves with colorful bracts, surrounding the yellow flowers. These bracts are sometimes mistaken as flowers.

Bracts are leaf-like structures that are found above the leaves but below the flower. This is not the same as the sepal (the green part directly underneath the flower). The bracts are one layer lower. 

Bracts have different shapes and colors compared to leaves. The early poinsettias were only red in color. Today, there are over 100 varieties. Red remains the most popular color. The other colors are maroon, pink, white, mixed colors, and marbles.

Where it was originated

Although the history of poinsettia began in Mexico in the early 1800s, the first to cultivate poinsettia were the Aztecs and Mayans way before Europeans arrived. The native Mexicans called it cuetlaxochitl or the brilliant flower. While the natives of Guatemala called it k’alul wits or the ember flower.

To these indigenous people, this plant has many uses. From decorative, magical, and medicinal. They can produce purple dye from its bracts. The milky sap was used to treat fever, as a remedy for toothache, and vomiting. The poultices of the leaves were used for aches and pains. The sap was also used as hair removal cream.

They also believe that the plant has magical properties. They believe that sitting on, stepping over, or smelling cuetlaxochitl, would cause infection of female reproductive organs. When a pregnant woman stares at the red bracts, her child will be born crosswise.

At around 1825, the poinsettia was introduced in the US by Joel Roberts Poinsett, a native of Charleston, South Carolina. He was a physician, a diplomat, and the first US Minister to Mexico (1825-1829).  Poinsett, who was also an amateur botanist, saw the plant. At that time, the plant was called Catarin, Flor de Nochebuena, or the Christmas Eve flower. He then sent some samples to the United States. By 1836 the plant was popularly known as the “poinsettia,” which was named in Poinsett’s honor. 

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day in the U.S., marking the death anniversary of Joel Roberts Poinsett.

Is poinsettia poisonous?

Someone incorrectly labeled poinsettia as toxic to humans and animals. Even the US Food and Drug Administration published a newsletter in 1970 stating that “one poinsettia leaf can kill a child”, and in 1980 they prohibited the plants from nursing homes in a county in North Carolina because of this supposed toxicity.

The story started in 1919 when a story of a 2-year-old child who died after eating a poinsettia leaf circulated. It was later included in the book “Poisonous Plants in Hawaii” by H.R. Arnold in 1944. However, he admitted the story was hearsay, and the poinsettias were not proven to be poisonous.

A study was made to determine a poisonous dose of poinsettia to rats had failed. The experimental doses of consumption reached 500 leaves (almost 1 kg of sap).

Reports of children and pets having contact with any part of the plant proved to have no effect, though it sometimes causes nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting if swallowed. 

There was also a survey from 1985 to 1992, where over 20,000 calls to the American Association of Poison Control Centers related to poinsettia exposure showed no fatalities.

There can be mild symptoms to cats and dogs, but not poisonous. While the white sap can have allergic properties for people with latex allergies.

How did poinsettia become a popular Christmas plant?

Red and green are popular colors for Christmas, which is probably the reason why poinsettia become associated with Christmas, too. Especially those that have the red bracts.

But there’s a legend about the plant. The story began in the 16th century in Mexico about a poor girl named Maria with a brother named Pablo. Because they couldn’t provide a proper gift for the celebration of Christmas, they decided to collect green weeds from the side of the road. They made a bouquet and brought it to the church. When they placed them at the nativity scene, the green leaves became bright red petals. After what happened, the plants’ Spanish name became Flores de Noche Buena or Flowers of the Holy Night. (In other stories, the children’s names are Pepita with her cousin Pedro)

Thereafter, Franciscan priests from the 17th century always included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.

Poinsettia in the US

After Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the plant to the US, who also gave cuttings to some of his friends, the plant became popular. One of the recipients was John Bartram, the owner of Bartram’s Garden. He included the plant in the business in  1728. It was then passed down to his granddaughter Ann Bartram Carr. Her husband, Col. Robert Carr, who was into international trade in native North American plants, introduced the poinsettia into commerce on June 6, 1829, at an “Exhibition of Fruits, Flowers, and Plants.”

More nurserymen and gardeners in the US followed in marketing poinsettias. Such as Robert Buist, an immigrant Scottish gardener from Philadelphia. He bought plant cuttings from Dr. Poinsett. He, later, renamed the plant Euphorbia poinsettia, because the milky sap of the plant is like the other varieties of Euphorbia. He, then, introduced the plant to Scotland through a friend in 1834, and later, into the British garden. However, the plant was renamed again to Poinsettia pulcherrima by Dr. Robert Graham, Edinburg Botanic Garden Director.

The Ecke Ranch

But the most successful of all is the Ecke family who pioneered and developed the poinsettia industry. Albert Ecke, an immigrant from Germany, saw wild poinsettias growing by the roadsides during winter. He thought they would make good Christmas flowers. After several failures, he was able to successfully grow farms of poinsettia in Hollywood and Beverly Hills by 1917. It became the world’s largest grower of Poinsettia until it was handed down to Paul Ecke III in the 1990s, which he also had production facilities in Guatemala.

Even when the Ecke Ranch was sold in 1912, the namesake was never changed and the poinsettia industry was continued. Finally, Dümmen Orange took over the Ecke Ranch in 1915. Since then, more varieties have been created such as the latest ‘Norwin’ poinsettia. The name was given in honor of the legendary horticultural leader Norwin Heimos. He died in February 2021 at the age of 90 leaving 43 acres of Greenhouse. The ‘Norwin’ poinsettia will be introduced in the Christmas season of 2022. 

How to propagate poinsettia

The most common and easiest way to propagate poinsettia is by cutting. Growing by seeds can also be easy. However, the resulting variety may be different than the mother plants because most of the varieties today are results of cross-pollination. These grown from seeds can have the characteristics of each parent plant.

Growing from seed

  • From your poinsettia plant, find the seed pods that begin to turn brown and collect them.
  • Store them in a closed paper bag, and keep in a cool, dry place until the seed pods have completely dried. You’ll know when they are ready when the seeds had popped right out of the pods and most seeds are at the bottom of the bag.
  • The poinsettia seeds you’ll find inside the pods are small and dark. To germinate, they first need to spend about several weeks to three months in a cool place, like your refrigerator. This process is called cold stratification.
  • There are some nursery or gardening stores that sell seeds if you prefer buying them. You can find them online, too, like this store
  • If you knew anywhere else where we can find some fine poinsettia seeds, let us know in the comment below.
  •  Sow 1 seed per pot about half-inch deep below the soil. Place the pots in a warm area and somewhere bright but with no direct sunlight.
  • These seeds may take weeks to germinate. However, placing them in a greenhouse can ensure a higher success rate in growing them as the condition can be maintained.
  • As the seeds germinated, young seedlings are particularly susceptible to fungal diseases. Make sure there is some air movement around the young plants until they grow several leaves.

Transplanting poinsettias

The best time to transplant poinsettias is in late spring or early summer.

  • Use a larger container, about 2-4 inches bigger than the original pot. Use a soil mix with a good amount of organic matter such as peat moss. Make sure your new pot has good drainage. The medium should be moist and the plants will get at least four hours of sunlight. Water them thoroughly after transplanting. 
  • If a garden bed is preferred, choose a place that provides part-sun, about 4-5 hours per day. Mix in organic matter such as peat moss or compost into the soil. This will help maintain soil moisture and create a good growing environment for the roots. Water them thoroughly after transplanting. 

Propagating from cuttings

Rooting a poinsettia cutting is the most common way of propagating the plant. In this manner, the plant will get most of the characteristics of the mother plant.

Wear a pair of gloves when handling a cut poinsettia. The white sap can sometimes irritate the skin.

  • The cuttings should come from a healthy poinsettia. Don’t use the old stems that had flowered as they are not a good choice. Instead, cut them back to allow new stems to grow. Keep this plant warm, consistently moist, and in a bright location to produce useful cuttings.
  • Wait until early summer and the plant has fresh growth. The cuttings will come from these new growths. 
  • Using clean, sharp gardening shears, cut stems of about 3-6 inches with 2-3 mature leaves. Dip the cut end into the rooting hormone for better root growth.
  • Place the poinsettia cuttings into a sterile potting mix
  • Use sterile potting mixes, such as sand and perlite mix, or pasteurized potting soil. Poke a hole in the moistened mixture. This will prevent the hormone from rubbing off the cutting when placed into the medium.
  • Once the cuttings are firmly planted, place a large plastic bag over the pot to create a mini-greenhouse to encourage better root growth. place the plant in a bright area but no direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist.
  • After a month, the cutting should have a good rooting system. They are ready to be transplanted in a pot where you want the plant to grow and to be induced to flower.
  • If you want them to be planted on the ground, they will do well if the place where you want to plant them does not have frost. 
  • By the end of autumn, induce the plants to flower by providing at least 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness. Poinsettias are short-day plants that need continuous darkness to trigger new bracts. To provide this they can be put in a closet or covered with a box. Don’t forget that they still need 9-10 hours of indirect sunlight. The colored bracts should be developed by mid-November. You can have the poinsettia on display.

Caring for Poinsettia

Despite many people loving having poinsettia plants during the Christmas season, a lot of them couldn’t prolong its life. Or if they could, they weren’t able to make them ‘bloom’ again for the next holiday. Especially when we received those pretty hybrid varieties, how we wish to prolong its life and make it colorful again.

That will be possible if the plant gets the proper care.

How will you know if you got a healthy plant?

  • The appearance should be healthy and vigorous looking. That is leaves are not dying, yellowing, and the whole plant has no signs of distress. The yellow flower buds in the middle of the bracts are still tight and not spilling pollen.
  • When you are going to buy the plant, make sure that you don’t get those that are on display by the front of the store or near the entrance/exit doors where bursts of cold air are coming in. They may look nice but they are more likely to die in just a few days.
  • Some flower shops keep the plants in the refrigerator before they put them on display. So, check the container with your hands. It should be at room temperature and not cold.
  • The soil should not be water-logged, or too dry that the soil sank down. So, check the soil with your finger, too.
  • Check for any bugs, or eggs, or signs that something’s grazing on the plant.
  • When bringing home the plant, make sure that the whole plant is completely covered to avoid cold wind and temperature.

A healthy poinsettia will be at its best for 6-8 weeks and will require just basic care. Which is just the right for the holiday. That is, avoid the hot or cold draft, place in a room with enough light (no direct sunlight), a steady temperature of 60-70°F (15-21°C), and keep the soil moist. Just water when the soil begins to dry.

After Holiday Care

The Christmas season just past and you would like to keep your poinsettia. I can’t blame you. Even when its colorful bracts are already gone, the plant can still be a great house plant.

Follow these tips and you will end up getting back your poinsettia’s bracts brightly colored again and in bloom by the next season.

NOTE: 

Make sure the poinsettia is placed where it can receive good lighting but no direct sunlight. If needed, a grow light can be used. If outdoor is preferred, good daylight of 4-6 hours is enough with a stable temperature of about 65 to 70°F (never below 50°F) with enough humidity. Freezing temperature, too hot, and over-dry will damage the plant. Keep the soil moist but never over-water. It is important that the container and the medium used are well-draining to prevent from getting soggy, which can cause root rot.

Humidity is important, too, for the plant. Misting them regularly will do the trick.

  • Once the bracts fell off, prune the plant leaving about 4-6 inches tall with 1 to 3 leaves on each stem. This will encourage new growth. Remember to wear gloves as the white sap may irritate your skin.
  • Fertilize poinsettia every 2 weeks with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer once new shoots are forming.
  • By May, or during warmer months, repot the plant to a container 1 size larger. A well-draining potting mix to be used should be sterile. Your poinsettia should be ready for pruning after a month or 2 (around May-July).
  • Pinch the tip of the plant off about 1 inch to encourage more shoots and avoid becoming too leggy. If you want to propagate a few cuttings, cut 3-6 inches with 2-3 mature leaves. Follow the propagation instructions above.
  • Continue watering the plant as needed, and fertilize every 4 weeks.

This is the growing phase of the plants. You will enjoy seeing the plant becoming lush. If you placed it outside, it is time to bring it inside. That is if your area is prone to have weather lower than 50°F.

This is also the time that the poinsettia can be induced to rebloom.

How to Rebloom Poinsettia

  • Poinsettia should have new branches by September. Give a final pinching or cutting if they became too long.
  • By October, the plant needs 9-10 hours of indirect sunlight and the rest of the hours should be in uninterrupted darkness. Yes, that’s 14-15 hours. This is to induce the growth of bracts. It is important that once the plant is in a darkened area, there should be no light during that period (like lights from the bulbs or flashlights, and others). This will lower the chance of growing bracts and flowers.
  • So, how would you do that if you don’t have a nursery or greenhouse? Place the plant in a warm, darkened room, or closet, or cover with a box. Other plant enthusiasts place the plant in a closet and cover it with a box. This is to avoid accidental spilling of light onto the plant in the area.
  • By mid-November, colored bracts have grown already followed by flower buds. You can put it out for display. Discontinue fertilizing the plant. 

Varieties

The plant breeding research started in the mid-1950s. Since then there have been so many improved varieties and cultivars. Gone are the only red-colored poinsettia bracts. There are deep red to burgundy-colored bracts, white, yellow, pink, bi-colors, and multi-colors. There are some wavy bracts and became longer-lasting, with darker, lighter green, and variegated foliage. Many cultivars have been developed to adapt to indoor growing and warmer conditions. 

There are, now, over 100 poinsettia varieties. Here are 26 of them:

Single colored Poinsettias

Norwin Poinsettia

The latest variety and to be available in the Christmas holiday of 2022. It is said to have the most vibrant and glowing orange color of any poinsettia on the market and is set against dark, charcoal green foliage for a dramatic contrast

Carousel Red

The bracts are bright red, wavy, and scalloped, with many small, brilliant yellow flowers, and the green leaves are large and veined.

Classic Red Poinsettia

This poinsettia has bright-red bracts, classic green leaves, and greenish-yellow flowers in the center of each petal.

Classic White

They are a creamy-white color with white centers and green leaves.

Euphorbia Astro Red

It has a longer shelf life with very strong branches. It does well in both cooler and warmer climates.

Euphorbia Christmas Glory Pink

This poinsettia is uniform and compact, pink-colored bracts and it flourishes in cooler temperatures. Stays looking great for a longer period. White is also available.

Orange Spice Poinsettia

It has spicy, bright orange in color with large dark-green leaves.

Polar Bear

The bracts have a delicate-looking creamy white-yellow color with small yellow flowers in the center.

Gold Rush 

This stunning poinsettia has a deep golden color with hints of pink, featuring small clusters of flowers in the center. It was created with an improved tolerance to heat.

Visions of Grandeur Poinsettia

These plants have soft-looking bracts due to their colors which are pale creamy yellow to pale pink with yellow veins. The large bracts are slightly ruffled that appeared like tousled-look and can be compared to a large rose above the emerald-green leaves.

Green Envy Poinsettia

The bracts are upright, wavy margins, with light green or chartreuse color. It was created to have a good heat tolerance.

Multiple Colored Poinsettias

Jingle Bell Rock Poinsettia

A spectacular, with two-toned bracts of bright red and a striking shade of creamy yellow, with glossy, dark-green leaves.

Princettia Hot Pink

An eye-catching deep-pink with lighter shade colored bracts, trimmed with a much lighter shade of pink at the edge.

Red Glitter Poinsettia

The bracts have bright red in color with creamy-yellow blotches all over.

Strawberries and Cream

The plant has elegant rose-pink-colored bracts that have raspberry-colored veins throughout, with grass-green leaves.

Peterstar Marble

This elegant-looking poinsettia has creamy-white trim with soft-pink center streak bracts,

Enduring Marble

This poinsettia has creamy white, almost lime-green bracts with shades of soft pink.

Christmas Beauty Marble

Saturated pink with a cream-colored marble pattern, this poinsettia will surely stand out among your other plants.

Euphorbia Autumn Leaves

Sometimes called Poinsettia gold, the plant has warm colors of pink, peach, and yellow, and it has a response time of over 7 weeks. This plant is also used in Thanksgiving decoration.

Ice Punch

The colors of the bracts are creamy-white with wide, bright-red trim. It has small yellow flowers at the center,  The bracts are less compact than other types of poinsettias. The leaves are dark-green that are scalloped and veined.

Jubilee Pink

The bracts have a very unique shade of pink, with bright orange-red color that fades in and out, making it look like it has more than one color in each of its bracts. The leaves are large and have grass-green in color.

Cinnamon Star Poinsettia

This cultivar has striking golden-peachy hue bracts with darker pink flecks above dark green leaves.

Poinsettia with variegated foliage

Holly Point Poinsettia

The plant has deep red bracts elegantly contrasted by mid-green leaves with gold variegation at the edge.

Silverstar Red

A novelty-type poinsettia with bright cherry red bracts and soft green foliage, generously variegated on the margins with creamy-white. It is an upright grower that can be trained into standard or tree forms.

Silverstar Marble

The bracts have white edges with soft pink centers and distinct variegated foliage.

Tapestry

This beautiful cultivar has bright, cherry-red bracts. Its variegated leaves are threaded with jade, mint, and red with pale yellow margins.

There you go! Which one do you like best? Which combination of different varieties of poinsettias would you like to have to put up as Christmas decor and then to keep as a house plant all year round?

Growing poinsettias, making them last longer, and bloom again is not that hard. You can have more poinsettias on the next Holidays if you get to propagate them.

Check these other flowering plants that are easy to grow, too.

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